Launchpad to space: Camp scopes future for nation's youth

Space Camp gives people more chance to see themselves going to space in a way that maybe they've not had before

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the launchpad for many of the nation's future astronauts. You may know it as Space Camp.

"It's just super exciting to be here with people who want to learn the same things as you," student Abby Threatt said.

Abby is visiting from Charleston for her third year. She says this is more than just a fun week away in the summer. It's also a chance to focus her interests and scope out a future. Applicants must be age 9-18 and in grades 4 through 12.

"Different missions and simulations … we do model rocketry, so we are in the process of testing our own rockets, and we will launch them. We get to do scavenger hunts and lectures learning about different things," she said.

Abby's enthusiasm is music to the ears of the Space Camp leaders who say they focus on making the week-long camps meaningful and authentic.

"Truly immerse our students in the experience of what it takes to go to space. Whether it is the astronaut that sits atop the rocket, to the engineers that build them, to all of those layers and layers of people that make space exploration possible," said Pat Ammons with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

And one of those critical layers includes meteorology. Forecasting is studied as part of the program -- not only the importance of weather for launches and landings but the weather on planets beyond our own.

Every button and knob you can imagine is on display, from small simulations to real marvels that have traveled in space. They all help capture the imagination of visitors of all ages. 

It said that more than a million students have journeyed through Space Camp since beginning in 1982. 

"So, it is hard to keep up with every name, but so often, really every week, sometimes every day we find a reference in some sort of media with someone referencing, 'I am doing these amazing things, and my journey really started for me at space camp,'" Ammons said.

And with a new commercial space age upon us, the future looks brighter than ever for this program. 

Ammons says that even with the space tourism opportunities coming up, Space Camp gives people more chance to see themselves going to space in a way that maybe they've not had before.